The Corrupt Elements of Trump’s Guilty Verdict

A jury of his peers Frankenstein’d together a guilty verdict, upending American precedent.

The story

After nearly a decade of going after Donald Trump, Democrats finally got him.

What started as a bookkeeping misdemeanor had been transformed—using something akin to a magic incantation that even baffled the liberal media—into 34 felonies against the former president. On Thursday, May 30, at around 5 p.m., 12 jurors found Donald Trump guilty on all counts of falsifying business records related to a $130,000 payment made to adult film actress Stormy Daniels to keep quiet about her alleged affair with the New York real estate tycoon.

Since falsifying business records is a misdemeanor in New York and the statute of limitations had expired, District Attorney Alvin Bragg had to allege that Trump orchestrated a larger scheme to elevate the charges to a felony. For Trump to be convicted, the jury had to prove his intent to deceive and to engage in or conceal a violation of New York Election Law § 17-152, which prohibits the unlawful influence of an election.

Judge Juan Merchan instructed the jury to consider whether Trump violated tax laws, the Federal Election Campaign Act (FECA), or falsified additional business records. In a highly unusual move, possibly out of keeping with the Sixth Amendment, the judge informed the jury that they did not need to be unanimous on which laws they believed the defendant violated.

Donald Trump was ultimately found guilty because of the judge’s instructions, though many are still confused about what exactly the crime was.

A normal, non-politicized prosecutor would never have brought such a weak case in the first place, and a jury of 12 Manhattanites likely could not resist the opportunity to jail someone that they believed to be a threat to democracy in America (the media’s latest narrative is that a Trump victory would make 2024 our last election.)

America now drifts further into uncharted legal and political waters as the nation makes the crisis of lawfare obvious to everyone.

The politics

Immediately after the court session, Donald Trump addressed the media with a more dejected tone, saying, “This was a disgrace. This was a rigged trial by a conflicted judge who was corrupt. It’s a rigged trial, it’s a disgrace.”

Republicans came rushing to Donald Trump’s defense, crashing his campaign’s donation page along the way. As donations came flooding in, conservative lawmakers universally denounced the jury’s decision and underscored the bizarre nature of this case, with the prosecution attempting to find a crime within a crime within a crime.

The reactions have gone further, however, illustrating a solemn sentiment among not just supporters of the former president, but many less partisan observers who believe Trump’s prosecution to be highly political. Tech billionaire Elon Musk stated, “Great damage was done today to the public’s faith in the American legal system.” Many high-profile conservatives are now labeling the country a banana republic and believe that the rule of law can no longer be trusted.

While President Biden has yet to issue a statement, his campaign declared, “In New York today, we saw that no one is above the law.” Echoing Donald Trump's exact assertions to the press, the Biden campaign reiterated, “There is still only one way to keep Donald Trump out of the Oval Office: at the ballot box.”

Left-leaning media outlets brought out their typical lines: Donald Trump is an authoritarian, he’s unhinged—but few seem to be taking up the case on its merits. Even those who do attempt to claim the case was airtight can go no further than describing Trump’s hush money payment as his effort to simply “[influence] the 2016 presidential election.”

The conflicts of interest

Judge Juan Merchan’s daughter, a big-time Democratic operative, profiting from the trial is the tip of the corruption iceberg. Matthew Colangelo, a Democratic operative and previously the third-ranking official at the Justice Department under Joe Biden, departed his position in 2022 to join D.A. Alvin Bragg's team as senior counsel prosecuting Trump.

Donald Trump’s sentencing is set for July 11, and his legal team is already preparing to appeal the decision. They will have strong grounds for their appeal, given the high likelihood of having had a biased jury in addition to the convoluted mess of actually trying to figure out what crime he’s being charged with.

While conflicts of interest abound, Americans remember the numerous attempts to take down Trump previously. Years of “Russiagate” allegations that went nowhere, the fake Moscow “pee tape,” and false claims about Trump ordering Michael Cohen to perjure himself before Congress, are just some of the memories that make many scratch their heads as to why a bookkeeping misdemeanor is categorically worse than anything else he has been accused of.

Why it matters

Regardless of whether the decision ends up getting appealed, Trump’s conviction sets a dangerous precedent. The norm in America was to let presidents be free from retributive prosecutions after they had left office. Bill Clinton and Barack Obama could of course be charged with something by a red-state court, given the long history of former presidents taking classified documents with them—or even hiding audiotapes in their sock drawers.

Thursday’s verdict marked a turning point in our nation’s history, possibly ushering in an era of tit-for-tat political prosecutions. When Senate Democrats invoked the “nuclear option” in 2013 to allow a simple majority to override a rule or precedent, Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY) gave his colleagues a stark warning: “You’ll regret this, and you may regret this a lot sooner than you think.”

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